TOPEKA — Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley on Thursday suggested his Republican rival should follow her own advice.
The Topeka Democrat complained that tax reform endorsed by Senate President Susan Wagle will cost the state $200 million in the first year and quickly derail the state budget. In her response to Gov. Laura Kelly's state of the state address, Wagle warned against squandering a projected budget surplus.
Hensley told The Topeka Capital-Journal's editorial board he doesn't understand Wagle's concept of financial restraint.
"It seems to me that their tax bill is going to squander the surplus from the beginning," Hensley said.
Wagle is pushing for passage of tax reform in line with changes in federal code. Wagle's proposal would deliver $137 million in savings to multinational corporations and $54 million to individuals.
Three-year projections provided by Hensley show an ending balance of $323.4 million in 2022 under Kelly's proposed budget. That includes expenses for debt repayments, Medicaid expansion, an inflation adjustment for public schools, and additional sources for the child welfare system.
If Wagle's tax plan passes, Hensley said, the state would be $98.8 million in the red by 2022.
The governor's calculations depend on a massive refinancing of the state pension fund, which would add $7.4 billion in liability over 30 years. Republican leaders have said that proposal is a nonstarter.
Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said there is "absolutely a way" to balance the budget while also providing tax relief.
“It’s money we didn’t expect in the budget," Wagle said. "It’s money that we never counted on. They threw it in our consensus revenue estimate last year because it was a tax increase. If we don’t pass this bill, backdate this bill, Kansas individuals, families and businesses will all have a tax increase this year.”
Assistant Minority Leader Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said Wagle and Kelly are "wonderful, strong women with great ideas for their constituencies." She expressed optimism they could work together, especially on Medicaid expansion.
If expansion gets a vote on the Senate floor, Faust-Goudeau said, it will pass.
Hensley said Medicaid expansion is being used as a political football in negotiations. Republican leaders are expected to block any Medicaid-related bill from being considered in health committees.
“I think this is the time where people are going to have to lobby the health chairs and make this happen," Faust-Goudeau said. "It has to happen. This is serious stuff. People are dying.”
Faust-Goudeau said some senators are finding it difficult to work with their former colleague. Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka, served in the Senate for 14 years before winning the governor's race in November.
“I know it’s a little difficult for some to accept a governor who they’ve served with in the Legislature — like, 'Who do you think you are? We’ve done the same thing,' " Faust-Goudeau said. "I’m actually hoping, and I’ve actually witnessed, people kind of let that part down. This is our governor now. We all know she’s smart, we all know she’s engaging, and we all know she wants to see our state move forward.”
Faust-Goudeau said she ran for office in 2008 to have a voice in the child welfare system. The first time she attended a meeting of the Child Welfare Task Force, all 21 panel members were white.
Now, she is the first African-American senator to hold her leadership title.
“When we talk about all the issues we face, in order to fix them, you’ve got to have all the interested parties at the table," Faust-Goudeau said. "For real you do. And over and over, it continues to be without that minority representation.”